Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Why Israeli hawks beat drums of war
By: By Sami Moubayed
The big news coming out of Wiki-Leaks for 2011 is that Israel was planning a full-scale war in the Middle East, as recently as late 2009. According to a cable from the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israeli Army Chief Lt Gen Gabi Ashkenazi told a congressional delegation in mid-November 2009, "I am preparing the Israeli Army for a large-scale war."
Reportedly, Ashkenazi added that the "rocket threat against Israel is more serious than ever," citing 300 Iranian Shihab rockets that can hit Israel. He also made a reference to more than 40,000 Hezbollah rockets and added that Hamas has the ability to "bombard Tel Aviv, which ahs Israel's highest population concentration".
In a clear reference to the Gaza War, Ashkenazi noted that in its next war, Israel will not accept "any restrictions on warfare in populated areas".
Anyone familiar with Ashkenazi's military record would not be surprised by his war-hungry remarks. The 57-year-old general served in the Israeli Army during the October War of 1973 and was on the frontline in the Lebanon war of 1978, in which he was wounded.
He took part in the 1982 siege of Beirut and in the 1990s became chief of Israel's administration of occupied south Lebanon. In 2000, he was a vocal critic of the withdrawal from Lebanon.
Two years later, Ashkenazi became deputy chief of staff of the Israeli Army at the height of the Al Aqsa Intifada. He then retired from service, but returned during the war of 2006 at the request of then defence minister Amir Peretz.
In 2007 he became chief of staff, waging with sheer brutality the Gaza war of 2008. In short, the man has an old score to settle with the Lebanese and the Palestinians, and is itching for another war.
When 2006 ended, Ashkenazi realised, like many heavyweights in the Israeli Army, that practically none of Israel's objectives has been achieved. The two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah had not been released, and although Lebanon had been "bombed back into the dark ages", the Israeli Army failed to eliminate — not even weaken — the military might of Hezbollah.
Ashkenazi, who knows his history, remembered only too well that Golda Meir had been forced to resign as prime minister after 1973 not because she lost, but because she did not win the October War. Much of that reasoning applied to Ashkenazi's former boss Ehud Olmert, who stepped down in early 2009, having also not won, neither the 2006 war in Lebanon nor the 2008 one in Gaza.
Anybody familiar with the guiding ideology behind the Zionist state understands why 2006 was such a problem for Tel Aviv. The Israelis, simply said, cannot afford to "not win" a war with the Arabs.
Since then, we have been hearing of a Phase II scenario for Lebanon, along the lines with what Ashkenazi told the US Congressmen, all aimed at a summer war sometime between 2007 and 2010.
Why summer? One reason is that all of Israel's wars have been in the summer, when the skies are clear and the soil is strong for Israeli army tanks, as in 1967, 1982 and 2006.
Constant Israeli military drills, the thundering rhetoric of Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, the aggressiveness of top officials in the Netanyahu government and an indifferent Obama administration have all added to the snowballing tension in the Middle East.
Neither Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Ashkenazi can tolerate Hezbollah's continuation in Lebanon. The group has effectively shattered the myth of Israeli military supremacy and lived to tell the story. In the event of a new war with Israel, Hezbollah has threatened to strike more forcefully than in 2006, occupying territory along northern Israel and bringing down the entire Netanyahu cabinet. Ashkenazi's mission is to make sure that doesn't happen because it would spell disaster for the Israeli Army.
Who benefits from a new regional war? Certainly, Hezbollah doesn't want it and nor do the Lebanese, the Syrians or the Saudis. Netanyahu, however, wants this war to happen, and so does Ashkenazi. The Iranophobia of both men makes them see such a war as a prelude to a future confrontation with Iran.
Another is a desire to rank among Israeli leaders who fought successful wars with Arab states — another David Ben Gurion, or Ariel Sharon for Netanyahu, another Moshe Dayan or Yitzhak Rabin for Ashkenazi.
Fighting a war, and winning it, would empower Netanyahu and Ashkenazi in any peace talks with the Arabs and spare them the agony of granting real concessions to the Palestinians.
Beneath the layers of Israeli rhetoric, however, everybody understands that Hezbollah's tactics give them an advantage against the bulky Israel Army. Similarly, the difficult topography of South Lebanon and its grassroots popularity works to Hezbollah's advantage.
Ashkenazi knows this only too well, which is perhaps why his 2009 comments never got past the drawing board.
Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward magazine in Syria.